Daddy Long Legs
"Daddy-Long-Legs," the novel, will be 100 years old next year. Jean Webster wrote the book and it became a best selling novel in the United States and in translations in Europe. The novel was topical of the sentimental and overly romantic novels of its time. In 1955, Daddy Long Legs became a successful film with Leslie Caron and Fred Astaire in the leading roles. Now, years later, the story has been resurrected once again, this time for the stage, in an elegant production playing in the Allen Theatre, the Cleveland Play House, PlayhouseSquare. John Caird wrote the book and Paul Gordon the music and lyrics.
In the story, Jerusha is the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home. She has no resources to take care of herself after she graduates from high school and leaves the John Grier Home. She receives a letter from Jervis (written under the name Mr. Smith) offering to pay her college tuition and provide $35.00 a year. She must write letters to her benefactor; he will not write to her. She gives him the name "Daddy Long Legs" and assumes he's old, bald, unattractive and rich. Jervis is the uncle of one of her Jerusha's friends. Through that connection she meets her benefactor and finds him attractive. He's youthful, handsome, good company and wealthy. However, she doesn't suspect he's her Daddy Long Legs.
The unraveling of the plot is obvious. He proposes, she refuses: she is an orphan without family connections and he's from a prominent family. She writes to Daddy Long Legs about loving Jervis but not being able to commit to a marriage with him. In early twentieth-century style, Jervis arrives on site, confessing he's Daddy Long Legs. She accepts his proposal of marriage and we assume they live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, the 1912 novel doesn't leap forward and seem appropriate 100 years later. The script is thin and transparent by today's standards, without the surprises and unexpected twists of plots we've learned to expect in the theater. The music seems repetitious and doesn't reflect the variety of music that was popular in the early twentieth century.
With a two-person cast, too much responsibility on the performers. Fortunately, Robert Adelman Hancock (Jervis) and Megan McGinnis (Jerusha) are talented actors and singers. I can only wish the playwright and composer had given them more musical variety and of more dramatic fireworks.
David Farley (scenic and costume designer) has created a generous set that permits the characters to live in a dormitory, work in an office, visit a farm, and roam through New England in the early twentieth century. Jervis has a study filled with a big desk and walls of book cases. The actors wear era-appropriate costumes, which are in dark colors with a few splashes of white. The set and costumes are visually appropriate.
The six-piece orchestra usually stays under the singers in volume and keeps the music moving at a comfortable pace. Directed by Laura Bergquist (keyboard/conductor), the other instrumentalists include Hanne-Berit Hahnemann (Violin), Linda Atherton (cello) Timothy Powell (bass) Robert Fraser (guitar) and Tom Fries (percussion).
Local gossip suggests this production may make its way to Broadway. The performers certainly are talented enough for Broadway. However, it's the script that gives me pause.
Daddy Long Legs will play October 21 - November 13, 2011, at The Allen Theatre, the Cleveland Play House, PlayhouseSquare. For more tickets and information, call 216-795-7000, ext. 4, or visit www.playhousesquare.org.
The next production the Cleveland Play House will offer is a version of a Sherlock Holmes' story, The Game's Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays. This is a new play by Ken Ludwig who is known for Lend me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo and other comedies. The Game's Afoot will play November 25 - December 18, 2011.
Daddy Long Legs
- David Ritchey